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Posts Tagged ‘Religion & Spirituality’

“People tell me they’re saddened by the ugly, uncivil polarization they see in public life, and the isolation and loneliness they feel in private.  They hunger for cooperation, connection, and community.  Meditation, which teaches kindness, compassion, and patience, is a clear, straightforward method for improving relationships with family, friends, and everyone else we meet.”

Sharon Salzberg, Happiness

I don’t know if we are ever so polarized as during an election year.

Human beings label things, pick sides, need to be right, and have fear.

Meditation teaches us how to label without judgment, to follow the middle path, and to let go of fear for a more compassionate relationship with the world.

I am really excited that I have the opportunity to teach at a local community college and mindfulness is one of my first agenda items.  It’s a skill that we should teach in first grade but if they can be inspired, as I was in my sophomore year, than maybe we have a chance for real change and happiness.

Thanks to Sharon Salzberg for an amazing book and profound and simple wisdom.

Peace, Jen

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Homemade Tassajara bread and Chèvre

This is a thoughtful and beautiful book that I downloaded to Kindle in April.  Whether you buy it for the recipes or the Buddhist wisdom, you will not regret this book.

Enjoy!

by Edward Espe Brown

Prayer Helps Throughout the day I offer many prayers as the occasion arises: “May you be happy, healthy, and free from suffering.” “Just as I wish to be happy, may all beings be happy.” “May you enjoy vitality and ease of well-being.” I am not asking for everything to be better, or for all your dreams to come true, but given that things are as they are and go as they go, I wish for your well-being and happiness in the face of all the changing circumstances. Things quite likely will not go ideally or according to plan, so I wish for the growth of buoyancy, flexibility, and resiliency. I wish for the nurturing of generosity and tolerance. Not by design, but something shifting inside. In the context of Buddhism I do not see prayer as necessarily directed toward a supreme being or higher power. Rather, I see it as a clarification and expression of true heart’s desire, or what my teacher Suzuki Roshi called innermost request. What is it we really want? To know and act on true heart’s desire or innermost request usually involves unearthing, sifting, and sorting. Speaking it can help to reveal and clarify it. Each day I offer a prayer before meals. I like using an ecumenical expression: “We venerate all the great teachers and give thanks for this food, the work of many people and the offering of other forms of life.” There are many possibilities: “May this food bring us health, happiness, and well-being.” “Just as we have enough to eat today, may all beings have enough to eat.” “May this food nourish us (me) body, mind, and spirit.” It could be as simple as “Blessings on this food.”

To have food on the table is truly a blessing, and one’s life can change profoundly by acknowledging one’s gratitude and appreciation. If you use your verse whenever you eat, even when snacking—it can be silent or spoken—it will help bring you into the present and will have a tremendous effect on how you receive your food and assimilate it. Acknowledging the blessedness of food is also acknowledging your own blessedness, your own capacity to nourish other beings as well as your self. Nourishment comes from receiving food (or any experience), fully taking it in, assimilating what is useful, and letting go of what isn’t. In Buddhism what comes into our lives is called dharma, or teaching.

In Christianity all that we receive can be viewed as a gift from God. Gratitude is called for: “We give thanks for this food, this ‘teaching,’ this ‘gift.’” Lately I have been reading Larry Dossey’s Healing Words: The Power of Prayer and the Practice of Medicine. Dr. Dossey is a physician who began incorporating prayer into his practice of medicine after reviewing scientific studies that demonstrated its effectiveness. He found the evidence for the efficacy of prayer to be simply overwhelming, even though this is one of the best-kept secrets in medical science. What he points out is that prayer works regardless of religious background or belief. Also, it turns out that the most powerful prayer is not one that aims for any particular result, but one that is more all-encompassing: “Thy will be done,” or “May the best results occur.” Along with a blessing or grace before meals or snacks, other eating rituals can be beneficial.

Ritual in this sense could include sitting down a table to eat, rather than eating standing up, walking, or riding in an automobile. Another is to turn off the TV and radio and to eat in the company of family or friends, or to focus solely on eating rather than eating and reading, or eating and talking on the phone. Each of us can determine which rituals are most helpful. In this sense ritual can be seen as ways to do things that help to heighten or deepen awareness. Noticing tastes, physical sensations, feelings, thoughts, and moods will inform or enlighten the food choices we make, and our capacity to be nourished by the food we are eating. Giving our attention to the experience of eating is powerful, whether we are eating wholesome foods or unwholesome foods, or are overeating. Ritual, prayer, your innermost request—please find your own way to bring yourself to your meal, to sitting down at the table and taking the time to eat and nourish yourself.

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MORE OF A PHILOSOPHY THAN A RELIGION. BUDDHISM...

(Photo credit: ronsaunders47)

“Our Buddhist vows are basically good medicine

for our wayward minds and forgetful hearts.”

~~Thich Nhat Hanh,

For the Future To Be Possible:  Buddhist Ethiccs for Everyday Life

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Wow, this summer has been 10 times crazier than I ever would have thought.  I snapped the photo above when I was running errands about 10 days ago.  Even when it’s busy, you’ve gotta stop and check out the clouds… it’s been too hot for a lot of stopping and smelling those proverbial roses.

I’m getting ready to teach General Psych for the first time this fall.  I start in less than 3 weeks and it is a LOT of work, on top of dissertation work and working a stressful 40 hour work week.

So, I have to admit that this blog has suffered.  And I thank all of you who stopped by, left me messages, checked to see if I was okay, etc.  I really enjoy doing the blog and unfortunately, there are only a few things in life that I can put on the back burner.

I’m thinking the Fall will be just as busy but I will do my best to find still, clear moments to share things I’ve read, videos I’ve watched, etc.

I’ve just re-watched Clara’s Heart with Whoopi Goldberg and Neil Patrick Harris several days ago when I was home with a migraine.  It’s the story of several losses and how everyone involved deals with their losses.  And well, it’s fun to see Neil Patrick Harris as a little boy.  If you have Netflix check it out.

I picked up a new book for my Kindle. . . The Wisdom of Listening by Mark Brady.  I have to say that I am really enjoying the few stolen moments that I find to read a couple of passages.

In this book, Mark states,

Once you have the attitude in your mind and heart, no matter how distressing your work environment, you can be really happy. . . Before beginning your daily meditations, spend some time reflecting on the suffering in the world, or your friends’ or patients’ suffering, and as their suffering touches and opens your heart, let your compassion grow even deeper, and your intentions to help even stronger.”

There is a lot of suffering that goes on at my full time job.  Our direct care staff work long hard hours with little gratitude.  We work with very difficult clients and there isn’t a day that goes by that their shifts are probably not very demanding.

Add on top of that all kinds of threats in the last year. . . the Governor will close your site.  The Governor is going to take a big chunk of your pay.

And then there is the world at large that might not impact us day to day but it does wear on our psyche. . . a new shooting today in neighboring WI. . . because someone’s religious beliefs and looks were different.

And a few weeks ago, another shooting in Colorado. . . in Aurora which is not that far from Columbine and it is the story of many systems going wrong. . . the mental health system, schools, enforcement of gun control or the lack thereof.

Of course, there is also the hostility that is the backdrop of most elections. . .

The Buddha was so wise is saying that our problem was suffering and illusion.  We can spend a lot of time focused on the lack, the need, the pain, etc.

But I like Mark’s reframe in this quote.  It’s much like the concepts of metta and tonglen.  We cannot ignore or be ignorant of the pain and suffering in the world.  If we do, we can become foolish or calloused.

But we cannot fret and let the world paralyze us or worse, make us wall off our hearts.

So what do we do?  We walk the middle path. . . we acknowledge the suffering in the world, we hold it close and let it fill us with compassion so that our hearts break open to hold more.

There is so much pain in the world and sometimes it feels like not nearly enough love.  So, when we look at holding compassion and lovingkindness for those who suffer, are filled with fear, are alone, etc., we generate lovingkindness in its midst.  We create love because of the suffering of others.

I know that some will say that just praying for people doesn’t do any real good.  I would disagree.  I don’t know if praying for some different outcome will work, but opening your heart and allowing it to expand to hold much more can never be wrong.

So, before you settle in with a difficult situation, a full schedule, chronic pain, heart break, and other craziness in the world, take those 10 minutes to sit with the suffering on a global level and allow it to touch your innermost essence.  And allow the space for your essence to foster new and deeper love as well.

May all beings be free from suffering and the root of suffering.

JRS

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“If we examine our motives honestly, we will usually find that there is some sort of fear inspiring our prayers.  We are afraid of something.  And we are asking to be protected from whatever we are afraid of.

The fear that inspires us to pray actually gives us the most significant clue in our efforts to understand an unanswered prayer. When our prayers aren’t answered the way we want them to be, we often have to expereience the things of which we were afraid.  We are forced to confront our fear.”

~~John Welshons, When Prayers Aren’t Answered

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The Buddha encouraged us to think of the good things done for us by our parents, by our teachers, friends, whomever; and to do this intentionally, to cultivate it, rather than just letting it happen accidentally.

~~Ajahn Sumedho, “The Gift of Gratitude”

I am truly thankful for all those who are in my life. . . my loving and devoted parents, my dear supportive friends, and wise teachers.

Life is nothing without love, compassion, and faithful companions.

Deep gratitude and prostrations to you all.

Namaste, Jennifer

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Here is a visualization from http://www.mindbodygreen.com.

http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-5195/Easy-Meditation-Technique-to-Heal-Relationships.html

I don’t use a lot of visualizations other than Yoga Nidra but for some, using more senses in their meditation and stress reduction can help one go deeper into their practices.

Check it out and leave us a post so we know if it is helpful.

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The subtle suffering in our lives may seem unimportant. But if we attend to the small ways that we suffer, we create a context of greater ease, peace, and responsibility, which can make it easier to deal with the bigger difficulties when they arise.

Gil Fronsdal, “Living Two Traditions”

Have you ever listened to your thoughts?

I mean really listened?

Take 5 minutes right now and open Pages or Word and just type whatever comes to mind.

Or scroll through your wall on facebook.

Really pay attention to what’s there.

Do you see (hear) your thinking?

Do you see (hear) the suffering there?

Listen carefully. . . I’m such an idiot (because your computer and ipad weren’t on the same network and wouldn’t sync).

I’m such a loser (because I’m tired at work and bored with what I do because it seems so meaningless).

You’re welcome! (when the person you let go through the stop sign and they don’t wave to you in thanks or acknowledgment).

What the hell’s wrong with you? (when the person in the right lane moves ahead of you in your lane and never uses a signal light AND slows down).

I’m such a slacker (spending one weekend in pain from a root canal and the next two weekends out flat with a migraine).

Do you hear it?  Does it sound familiar?

Whining about the weather being too hot, too cold.

Not having enough money and wanting stuff that can really wait.

I keep crying, I’m such a baby (or one that bugs me. . . for you guys. . . when you say or think I’m crying like a little girl). . . because someone you love has died.

We bombard ourselves with stuff like this all day, all night, every day.

Would you talk to your kids this way?  Your best friend?  Would you let others talk to you this way?

There is a lot of talk today about bullying. . . and we need to talk about it.

And I think we need to first be aware of our own thinking and our own speech.

We can be pretty cruel and cause ourselves so much unnecessary suffering.

Life can be filled with pain, heartache, injustice, loss, and other tragedies. . . why do we add to all of this?

Stephen Levine, in The Grief Process, talks about the little injuries and losses that we sustain throughout our lives that we overlook and let chip away at us.

He questions, at one point, if we were able to have mercy for ourselves and acknowledge these little losses, would the losses of those we love be as big and hurt so much.

A new wound is most likely going to hurt more if it is at the point of a reopened wound.

So mindfulness helps us learn to acknowledge and bring into our full consciousness that which is usually below the surface, despite how much it can impact us.

With practice, we practice having compassion for these thoughts, feelings, and sensations.  Even if it feels rote or fake, we go through the process until our barriers begin to melt and we can hold our pain, our grief, our illness in our conscious awareness and experience patience, compassion, and equanimity.

This isn’t an easy practice but it is a life saving one.  And our very practice helps us to strengthen this life saving tool.

Listen to how you talk to yourself about your practice. . . do you make excuses for not getting on the cushion.  Do you beat up on yourself when you have a “bad session”?

Great moments to practice patience.

Maybe it will be easier to practice compassion for yourself in these moment than when you are in the midst of intense emotions or safer than situations (or people) that are really hurtful.

Life is filled with pain, danger, illness, discomfort, and other difficulties.  But it is vital to learn the difference between what is inherent because of the human condition of fragility and what is our own creation . . . our own layer of additional suffering.

And then of course, as those start to become clearer, mindfulness and lovingkindness give us the tools to transform suffering into peace.

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English: Thumbnail portrait of Atisha based on...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Your body is fragile and vulnerable.

The Sixth of the Nine Contemplations of Atisha. . . your body is fragile and vulnerable.

Think about how easily we can be overcome by something microscopic like a germ cell.  We don’t need a tiger to kill us, a few cells can do the trick.

It’s been over 90 in the Midwest for a couple of weeks and it’s been several days with temperatures above 100, without the heat index and on the news last night we heard that two elderly people in the area had died because they had stayed in their homes without air conditioning.  So even something that cannot be seen under a microscope can take these very lives of ours.

Our own bodies can turn on us, as when we have an autoimmune disease.

We grow up in this country to believe that we are rugged individualists, that we have boundless freedom and are invincible when we get good grades, get a job, marry, and raise the perfect family.  And most people can probably name at least a handful of people for whom this narrative isn’t the case.

Your body is fragile and vulnerable.

Our teeth decay.

Our muscles grow weak.

Our cells multiple, sometimes out of control and cancer grows.

Sometimes our bones break.

Our sleep gets disturbed.

We “catch” the flu.

Our muscles spasm and our arches fall.

It doesn’t take much water or ice on the floor to bring us to our knees or drop us on our heads.

Think about your mindful breathing. . .

Don’t you take for granted that as you focus on your in-breath that an out-breath will follow and then another in breath?

Would you if you had asthma?

Your body is fragile and vulnerable.

And what about our minds?  We often forget that there is interconnection between our minds and bodies and think of them as separate entities.

It doesn’t take a lot for our minds to “betray” us too.

We have afflictive emotions.  We have perceptions, sensations, feelings, emotions, and thoughts.

We can have hallucinations, dreams, and forgetfulness.

We take little pills to change our thinking and feelings.

Some of us will be born and develop depression, schizophrenia, autism, or dementia and although we see the effects of these diseases, we can only conjecture what really happens, despite our collective belief in levels of serotonin, problems with synapses, etc.

Your body is fragile and vulnerable.

Illness, like death, is an edge for us.  It is a mindfulness bell.  We usually don’t appreciate good health until we have lost it much in the same way that our love grows fonder and deeper when the object of our love has died.

A sore tooth or an aching back remind me of how fragile my physical life is.

I appreciate the rest of the teeth I have while I am sitting with the discomfort of a root canal.

When I have a migraine, I am painfully aware of the week I have had without the pain, sensitivity, nausea, etc. but that does not mean that I have been mindful to the lack of pain during that week.

So, can we use our physical presence and bodies in our meditations?

Definitely!

We cultivate awareness with meditations like body scans and progressive muscle relaxations.

Or focus on attention by practicing Yoga Nidra.

We allow our awareness to the sensation of our abdomen rise and fall with our inhalation and exhalation.

I remember a story from my first philosophy teacher. . . she was the one who introduced me to Buddhism and meditation.  I remember her telling me that her friend, during meditation, knew that there was something wrong with her kidneys and was able to get hydrated and get to the doctor before it was too late.

Our bodies may be weak, vulnerable, and fragile and we will ultimately die from something.  Not even the Buddha himself was able to avoid it.

But our cultivated aware and attention can be powerful as we practice meditation.

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Thich Nhat Hanh, Sister Chan Khong and Kenley

Thich Nhat Hanh, Sister Chan Khong and Kenley (Photo credit: kenleyneufeld)

Here is a clip of a song which is often sung in Thich Nhat Hanh‘s tradition.

“Happiness is here and now,

I have dropped my worries,

Nowhere to go,

Nothing to do,

No longer in a hurry

Happiness is here and now,

I have dropped my worries,

Somewhere to go,

Something to do,

But I don’t need to hurry.”

And here is a PDF of some of their other songs

Today I had some dental work done and I can honestly say that I have more angst about going to the dentist than my own death.  At least with death, there is probably an end of suffering.  At the dentist, it certainly doesn’t feel like it.

I know I am not the only one who has this problem.  Google dentist and dukkha and you’ll see what I mean.

I try to bring my iPod and listen to Thich Nhat Hanh while I am there.  I find him comforting, especially when he is chanting in Vietnamese.  It soothes my “soul”.

What I was listening to was the audio version of Living Without Stress and Fear.

I didn’t plan to listen to that but I used the search function, typed in Thich Nhat Hanh and it was the first audio that came up.

Between my angst, the drill, stopping for Xrays, etc, I could actually hear bits and pieces of the talk.

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